It just had to be Napoli, didn’t it?
After scraping through to the quarter-finals of the Europa League following a 4-2 aggregate win against Stade Rennais, Arsenal faces arguably their most difficult test this season after being drawn with Italian side Napoli.
It’s starting to feel like last season all over again. With Champions League qualification via a top-four finish still in the balance, Europa League glory might be the most viable option for passage back to Europe’s elite competition, and then Arsenal get drawn with the hardest team in the tournament.
That’s not to say Napoli are on par with Atletico Madrid, far from it. Carlo Ancelotti’s side are one of the most entertaining teams to watch in all of Europe, and this has been the case for some years.
Napoli is the club where ‘Sarriball’ was birthed and is the method of play that last season almost resulted in the south Italian team winning their first Scudetto in 1990. But just like most things in Italy, Juventus turned up and ruined the party.
League heartbreak aside, Napoli remain one of the best teams in the country and one of the most exciting club sides in all of Europe. But should Arsenal be worried?
On paper, the Gunners should be cautious. This is Napoli we’re talking about, a thrilling team to watch that play the beautiful game at 100MPH, but at the same time, they are a team that can buckle under pressure, and especially in Europe.
Since returning to Europe this decade Gli Azzurri have been one of the most underwhelming sides in the continental competitions. Napoli finished third in their Champions League group with PSG and Liverpool finishing above them and last season they again finished third in their group, this time losing out to Manchester City and Shakhtar Donetsk.
Napoli have never been one to get a result against English teams, and this will be a big factor for Arsenal when going into this tie. The Gunners have already played against the Italian side this decade in the Champions League group stage, winning 2-0 at home and then losing the away fixture by the same scoreline.
With Unai Emery’s side playing at home in the first leg, it is vital the Gunners get a big result and avoid letting in an away goal. Arsenal’s defending in the big games as of late has been impressive, with clean sheets against Stade Rennais and Manchester United at home as well as a valiant performance away to Spurs.
It will be the away leg that Arsenal fans must worry about.
We all know about the form away from home and the shaky defence Arsenal currently have, and going away to a stadium as intimidating as the Stadio Sao Paulo could have a major effect on how this series ends up.
But if the Gunners defence turn up like they have done in recent weeks, Arsenal could be looking forward to a Europa League semi-final against either Emery’s old side in Valencia or be welcoming home a club hero in Santi Cazorla.
Arsenal fans, do you think Arsenal can progress against Napoli?